There’s a popular quote that goes, “Half my money is wasted on advertising; the problem is I don’t know which half.”
Though humorous, the above quote isn’t all that far from the truth. Advertising’s positive effects are notoriously difficult to quantify, even by such terms as brand awareness, top of mind, and brand image. As a result, spending money on advertising has always been, at least in part, an act of faith. Instead of increasing your advertising budget for an uncertain return, you should also investigate more affordable marketing alternatives.
Fix Up Your Website
Your website is one of the most important parts of your business. It’s your online shop window, a way for customers to approach and connect with you before they even step into your store. A presentable website—complete with copywriting, graphic design, web metrics tools, and SEO marketing—is still a fraction of the cost of a prime time television ad, and will bring you much more value over time.
Publicity ≠ Advertising
There’s a simple difference between publicity and advertising: if you have to pay for it, it’s advertising. What publicists and public relations agencies do is be your advocate within news, media, and social circles. They hope to make you so intriguing that people will talk to you—and talk about you—of their own free will. This approach is much cheaper than paid ads, but also involves more risk, since so much of the process relies on other people’s interest and you got to be careful who handles your SM. But if your story is interesting enough to warrant that kind of attention, then the returns far outweigh the cost.
Connect with Social Media
Ah, the buzzword of the decade. Many businesses and marketing gurus trumpet the virtues of social media, and they’re largely true. Organizations have used it to successfully connect with customers on a deeply personal level. Done well, it turns your customer base into a community and allows them to spread their love of your product to their own friends.
But before you jump on the social media bandwagon, you have to make sure that it’s appropriate to your business and that you can handle all of its negatives, as well. This is an open channel of communication, and the bad can flow in just as easily as the good, if you’re not careful.
Write a Book, Start a Blog
Becoming a thought leader in your industry is a great way of improving your company image. Your blog or book doesn’t even have to be about the product itself (in fact, it probably shouldn’t). Talk about issues your customer would find relevant or interesting in a manner that’s consistent with your brand personality. Is your brand quirky and fun? Let that manic personality seep into your writing (much like woot.com does with its website). Are you authoritative and informed? Deliver how-to guides and insightful articles. Provide value to your readers, and customers will approach you for more than just products.
Let the Product Speak for Itself
The best way to sell a good product is to make a good product. Deliver that, and your customers will sell your product for you. If you’re customer base is still small, get your product out there by doing promotions, sending out samples, and offering free trials.